PLOT: Fresh off the success of NORTH BY NORTHWEST, Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins)- now sixty years old, is afraid his best years may be behind him. Anxious to push himself further than he's ever gone before, he options the novel PSYCHO, which is based on the true story of serial killer Ed Gein (Michael Wincott)- who haunts Hitch's dreams. Meanwhile, his wife Alma (Helen Mirren), frustrated by her years in the shadow of her husband's reputation, and his obsession with his blond leading ladies, begins a flirtation with screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston). All the while, Hitch personally invests much of his fortune into PSYCHO, threatening them with ruin.
REVIEWS: Hitchcock seems to be very much in vogue this year, with the recent re-release of much of his catalogue on Blu-ray, and not one, but two competing biopics. I didn't care (at all) for the first, the HBO telefilm THE GIRL, which to me felt more like Tippi Hedren's revenge than a well-rounded biopic, although Toby Jones was good.
Thankfully, HITCHCOCK is better than THE GIRL in every conceivable way. A much more balanced portrayal of the man, HITCHCOCK doesn't shy away from his peculiarities, but also keeps something in mind that the makers of THE GIRL seemed keen to ignore- that despite everything, he was a genius and stands as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.
In the titular role, Anthony Hopkins is superb. In keeping with the mostly playful tone of the film, he's played in a way that will be familiar to anyone who's ever watched an episode of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. He's cheeky and despite his massive girth and age, mischievous in a boyish way, especially when it comes to scaring his audience. While I initially assumed Hopkins would be too identifiable, he manages to disappear into the part, giving one of his best performances in awhile. While it may not be exactly the way Hitchcock actually was, it's the way I hope he was.
Just as important is Helen Mirren as Alma Reville, his wife- who, having worked for years as his uncredited script doctor and editor was brilliant in her own way. While Mirren is probably a little too foxy and athletic to be playing Reville, who in archive photos looks frail, she's wonderful and easily holds her own against Hopkins. Their banter is exactly how I always imagined the Hitchcocks would sound, with her constantly challenging him to do better work, and never allowing him to wallow in self-pity (while chiding him for over-eating and drinking).
PSYCHO fans (who isn't?) will get a kick out of the way director Sacha Gervasi (director of the excellent doc ANVIL!) recreates scenes from PSYCHO, with the help of the surprisingly uncanny Scarlett Johansson and James D'Arcy as Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins. Being a gorgeous, curvaceous blond, Leigh naturally becomes another Hitchcock favourite although unlike in THE GIRL nothing untoward is ever suggested, although the same can't be said for his former protege Vera Miles, played by Jessica Biel (a smallish role)- with him spying on her courtesy of a very-Norman Bates style peephole. As Perkins, D'Arcy is almost too on the nose, capturing his tics and mannerisms in a way that's like watching the man himself.
As much as I enjoyed HITCHCOCK, it has to be said that the movie is a tad lightweight. Given that we know PSYCHO ended up being the biggest hit of Hitchcock's premiere, it's hard to get too invested in his struggle. Still, the dialogue is clever, and the performances are superb, making it a very enjoyable ninety minutes. Having read my share of Hitchcock biographies, I'm confident in saying that HITCHCOCK is a relatively honest portrayal of the man who, had he not possessed at least some eccentricities and peculiarities, never would have given us so many transgressive (for their time) classics. Unlike THE GIRL, HITCHCOCK isn't a judgement, but rather a celebration of the man and his body of work. More than anything, it makes me want to re-watch all of his movies. Hopefully audiences will feel the same.
|Extra Tidbit:||Only one line really put me off. Michael Stuhlbarg, as Hitch's agent/future MCA chief Lew Wasserman claims Anthony Mann's WINCHESTER '73 is a bad movie. It's actually one of the best westerns ever made. To include a line like that makes me think the writers never actually bothered to watch it.|